There’s been a lot of talk in recent weeks about the potential for driverless vehicles. Whether it’s Google’s bubble cars, modified third party vehicles or all of the stop-gap technologies like autonomous emergency braking that other manufacturers are working on. However all of this has related to the vehicles themselves being smart. General Motors believes that the smart future will also require smart roads, which is why it’s teamed up with the Michigan Department of Transportation, Ford Motor and the University of Michigan to create over 120 miles of connected, smart highways to help driverless cars become more of a reality.
One of the big problems with Google’s fully autonomous vehicles, is that they’re only capable of driving on roads that Google has previously mapped out, which while currently incorporating some hundreds of miles, is only 0.1 per cent of all roads in the US. Making roads themselves smart could be a shortcut to increasing the roadways that can be driven on by these sorts of vehicles safely. They could also help provide the vehicles with advanced warnings or suggestions of alternate routes in the event of traffic jams.
This is why GM’s CEO Mary Barra is pushing the tech forward, but it’s also an effort to increase GM’s public perception when it comes to autonomous vehicles. Like the other major car makers, it’s been working on the tech for some time but has been far less vocal. Now it wants to change that.
“We are on a journey that one day, in the not so distant future, intelligent and connected vehicle technologies could help eliminate the crash altogether,” said GM’s chief technology officer, Jon Lauckner.
However in the mean time, GM believes that middle-road strategies that provide some automation are the next step. For example, one piece of technology it’s working at the moment is called Super Cruise, which will allow drivers to take their hands off the wheel when on motorways. The car will then speed up or slow down with the flow of traffic, maintaining a safe distance from the car in-front and braking as and when necessary in the event of a sudden slowdown. It will also maintain lane position thanks to lane assist technology that detects if the car drifts from it.
Another system that GM is working on for the future but has no release planned out, is a technology that scans for mobile devices and system chips in the nearby area. Those can then be used to predict if a pedestrian or other vehicle is going to cross in-front of the path of the vehicle. This would then be combined with warning systems or automated braking to make the vehicle avoid the potential hazard.
This is much like technologies being developed by other providers, like Vovlo which is pioneering an animal avoidance system which is able to pinpoint when deer, moose or other animals are going to cross a road (even in the dark) then either issuing a warning to the driver or applying the brakes automatically.